2018 Reading List
Updated Whenever I Finish, Stop or Skim A Book
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in the Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
Really nice overview of how things become popular and demystifying the “viral” myths.
The Correspondence by J.D. Daniels
Literary essays about mini life happenings, from traveling back home, to participating in group therapy, to contemplating the nature of writing, to weird, psychotic neighbors. A surprising book that touches on a variety of topics — it transcends any other essays, really they are slice-of-life observational dopamine hits.
This book is ten years old, and despite some of the political handwringing that seems petty now, you know in light of certain events, the literary recommendations still hold up. Basically, the editors and friends of n+1 ask which books they read too early, which ones they read too late and then make recommendations. It’s a good discussion, that only grad students will enjoy. A lot of theory and academic texts along with classic novels that I’ve never read and several writers I’ve never heard of even though I have a grad degree in English. I highlighted several books and am ready to dive back into a few classics. It’s a short read and worth the time.
Better Living Through Criticism by AO Scott
Criticize a book about criticism? Sure.
Scott is the chief film critic for the New York Times, a respected voice to be sure. He tries and takes a pseudo-academic approach at the beginning, but really we don’t need Scott’s half-baked takes on how art is formed or the questions about why art exists. Those sound nice, but really we want to get to the question of why he, in particular, is qualified to be an arbiter of what’s good and bad in film. Those mostly come through the Q&A sections of the book, where Scott makes up a fake conversation that skeptically pokes at his credibility and influences. This format is the interesting part of the book, compared to the somber beginning and middle. At the end, he touches on what it likes to be wrong and how critics should handle that. Really, this book could have been fifty or sixty pages and a little less serious.
Before We Get Started by Bret Lott
I promise I’m reading more books than it looks. I often read several at once, and then don’t complete them. Anyway, this one. I’d listened to part of a podcast with Bret Lott and was intrigued by his everyman nature, more so than his fiction. I haven’t read any of his fiction books, but he’s a literary writer. His claim to fame is being selected as an Oprah pick back in the late 90s. Without it, I’m not sure Lott would’ve been able to continue.
That said, this is the most honest book about a writer’s life I’ve read. You won’t find any tips on writing better fiction in here; this isn’t a style guide. Instead it’s a grappling with reality. His chapter on rejection is amazing — it’s the first reasonable explanation I’ve heard of why you should submit to lit mags.
Also, his chapter on work and giving characters reasonable jobs was awesome, too. His advice is basically to write what you know on the job front, but to also give your characters real-life work…meaning you as a writer need to do other jobs than just writing. Everyone works. And this should be reflected in fiction, too.
Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgard
I really want to be the person that likes Knausgard. I’ve tried. It’s my struggle to finish My Struggle. I’ve started and stopped that book about three times and after reading about half of this, I kind of want to again. This is observational and witty and generally things that I like. It’s supposed to be a series of essays about his daughter’s impending birth, but often it’s just a meditation on things happening — the art of chewing gum, for instance. Others, like one about frames, take a common object and go into more metaphorical musings. Most of the essays are named as the object, and it’s generally interesting. But it just felt like too much of the same rhythm and the same type of observations with the same type of sentences over and over again. It’s not compelling. The essays are very short, but I feel the book could be shorter — especially when considering he has another one title Winter and another title Spring…yeah you see the pattern. Instead, the best writing of these could probably be condensed into one book called “Year” or “Seasons” or something and then divided up by the seasons.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
Definitely my favorite book this year. I picked up because of the essays on the punk bands — he covers The Wonder Years, Fall Out Boy, Cute Is What We Aim For, Defiance, Ohio, My Chemical Romance — but stayed for the sports and observations on race in America. I’m not a fan of all those bands by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s rare to see (good) critical writing on any of them and I’m familiar with those scenes and those fans, that I felt like I owed it to Hanif to check it out. And they didn’t disappoint. Much of it isn’t necessarily about the band’s music, about the experience of belonging and relating, which is why any of us listen to music, or talk about bands or go to shows, is to be part of something that’s bigger than us (but not too big).
I also really liked his essay about the NBA, Allen Iverson and the crossover — a move that is done frequently, but is rarely commented on for its effectiveness or beauty. Much talk about crossovers is just how “sick!” they were, but Hanif dives into the politics and meaning behind such a move — and he also explained the value of the All-Star Game to me, that as a longtime NBA fan, I had never thought of (maybe that was in a different essay).
Anyway, it’s not just punk and basketball — there’s stuff about Michael Jackson, Ric Flair, Chance the Rapper, Nina Simone and more music.
He also writes about being a black man in the Midwest and the most affecting of these to me was an essay called “They Will Speak Loudest Of You After You’ve Gone” about how “well-meaning” white liberals seem to respect and advocate black men/people after they’ve died tragically then when they’re actually living. It’s a moving essay with an irrefutable point.
Pick it up right away.
- Yes, I skimmed this. No, I didn’t read every essay. But it’s still my favorite book so far. His topics are varied, and I didn’t feel compelled to read every one of his essays, but I did read the majority.
An awesome behind-the-scenes look at movie studios in the age of franchises, especially from Sony — who had the chance to be a huge player in the Marvel Universe and didn’t quite put it together. The author also details some of the workhorses behind studios that aren’t well-known to show you how the sausage is made.